The Greatest Match Ever Played

The Greatest Match Ever Played

Apr. 10, 2020

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I keep hearing people say how important sports are to us.

Are they, though?

What’s important about a major league baseball game on a Wednesday in Phoenix? What’s great about spending eight hours watching football and ignoring your family? What’s great about being so bored that gambling on sports is the only way to feel alive?

Here’s a scalding hot take: Sports are overrated. Sports offer tons of downside and almost zero upside when it comes to self-improvement.


There are times sports can make a difference.

When we play them. Playing sports can make a change someone’s life.

But watching sports is mostly useless.


Sometimes something amazing happens. Sometimes a bunch of things align and sports become riveting. And inspiring. And useful. And life-changing.

Those moments are during the greatest matches of all time.

Watching the greatest of all time can motivate us to try to be great ourselves, or to appreciate a human’s potential (and upgrade our idea of our own).

So, what makes something the greatest?

First, the match must be high quality. Obviously. But there are a lot of matches that fit this description.

Second, there must be tension. There must be a gripping story behind it.

Third, there must be twists and turns.

Put all those together and you get something worth watching. And worth discussing.

Which is why we’re going to analyze the 2017 Australian Open men’s final.

It’s the greatest match of all time.

Here are the reasons this match is the greatest match of all time:

1. The level is off the charts. The greatest rally of all time happens in this match (late in the 5th set at 4-3). That’s enough by itself. But the rest of the match is amazing, too.

2. No one expected them to be there. Federer had been away from the tour for many months due to injury. This was his first Major back. Nadal was also injured leading up to this tournament. People had talked retirement for both. Their answer to that negative nonsense was to make another Major final. Both were never-give-up personified.

3. The crowd. The people watching it were mesmerized from the beginning. First, they split their devotion evenly between the two champions. But by the end, they only wanted one player to win. They made the right choice, and their eruptions in the final set were ear-splitting. To be that excited about something, to be that happily drowned in the moment, is special.

4. Federer’s backhand. The regurgitated trope was that Nadal beat up on Federer’s backhand. That’s why Nadal beat him previously, they said. Instead of listening to anyone’s stale stereotypes, Roger used his backhand to rip Nadal’s head off.

5. Clay is a ridiculous surface and should be completely ignored. Why do we care about clay? Why do we consider Nadal’s clay accomplishments? It’s an uneven surface peculiarly and accidentally suited to one player’s attributes. Check out some of the weird French Open champions. They don’t make sense. Clay court tennis never produces a greatest match ever. It’s not even a consideration. And check out the Grand Slam totals and head-to-head records if clay is considered merely a dirty, orange exhibition. Do that and it’s easy to see who the best is.

6. Both of them had to overcome incredible odds. Both were old for tennis players. Both had been injured. Both had been written off. Both had to escape five-set thrillers to get there. Both thought they’d never play each other in a final again (it had been about a decade since they’d done it). If they didn’t give up, maybe we shouldn’t either.

7. The twists and turns. Federer came out slightly sluggish and then looked superior. He could win in straight sets. Then Nadal played some of the best tennis of his life. Federer is too tired to win this one. Then Federer dominated once again after looking like he was in trouble in the first few games. It’s over. He’s going to do it. Then Nadal raised himself once again. He’s Federer’s kryptonite. Roger can’t beat this guy anymore. Then Nadal raced out to a 3-1 lead in the 5th. Now it’s over. Then Federer starts shooting fireballs from his eyes, and lightning bolts from his %&#. Those last five games have more great shots and twists and turns than other players have in a career.

8. The magnitude. The lead-up to this match was the most intense of all time. It was Ali-Frazier. Ali-Foreman. It was the battle for who is the greatest player of all time. Everyone agreed on this before the match started. And it was the most watched tennis match ever.

9. The repercussions. By slaying his biggest demon in the most incredible way, it changed the entire discussion. Roger started beating the one player he couldn’t beat easily and all the time. Roger went on to beat Nadal four times in a row after this and five of the next six. The only exception? A dark, 50-degree windstorm day on an irrelevant, ludicrous surface.

There’s much to gain from watching this match.

Most of all, it showed us there is no fate but what we make.

We can beat the odds.

And our nemesis.


My book is called The Inevitability of Becoming Rich, and you can find that here.